Jesus, not the Church III

emerging church, nascent church Add comments

Perception No. 5: ‘All Other Religions Are Wrong!’

we have to build relationships and understand other faiths well enough to talk about them intelligently and compassionately.

It seems to me that we don’t necessarily need to understand other faiths well enough to talk about them, as much as we need to understand our own faith well enough to talk about them while listening to others talk about their faiths. Here we run into a major sign of a modern thinker — thinking they possess total knowledge on all subjects. Have you ever run into an atheist who really knows the Christian faith? I have. I’ve run into a few that know more about the Christian faith than most Christians I know. Do you know what? I didn’t become an atheist. Weird! Freaky!

Why not? Because while they knew about the Christian faith they didn’t know about my Christian faith. Stop at the first part of that phrase above and you’ll do well. We do have to learn how to build relationships. And we do not need to tell someone else what they think. We have to learn how to have a relationship of give and take. But to do that, to be able to have a conversation we have to know our own contribution.

So to be effective missionaries in our emerging culture, what do we need to understand about where people are coming from?

Note. It’s not the culture that is emerging. That’s a bad blend of hip concepts. The culture is the culture. Emerging as a word is only useful, really, in regards to the Church. Though I appreciate the fact postmodern is overused, and generally vague. But, I’m thinking ’emerging’ is too now. I’d prefer “to be effective missionaries in our culture, what do we need to understand…”.

• Our culture is post-Christian. About a year ago, I watched an episode of a popular TV sitcom in which the family was arguing over which religion a new baby would be dedicated in. The father wanted the baby baptized, the mother wanted a Hindu ceremony and the grandparents wanted a Jewish bris. In the end, they compromised and did all three.

I wrestle with this one. Our culture is post-Church to be sure. But is it really post-Christian? Do all the world faiths have an equal chance in the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific? I really don’t think so. I’d much rather be a Christian missionary than a Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or B’Hai missionary. The tendency now is to be secular or vague, but most of the country retains a Christian flavor to it. Which makes me think this country is a lot more Christian-weary than post-Christian. Europe is in a different place with this. But, I’m not sure I’d give America that label yet.

Indeed, about four days ago I watched an episode of a popular TV sitcom in which one character had an argument with another character about whether things happen for a reason. One character, Dr. Cox, said, “no sir, not a chance, there.” The other character, Nurse Roberts, replied otherwise. Her specific dialogue was especially interesting. “Romans 8:28,” she said to Dr. Cox, “says ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.'”

Yeah, on Scrubs last week a major subplot was based on a verse from the book of Romans. And you know what? Things kept happening for a reason in that episode, proving Dr. Cox wrong (though with a very big cliffhanger at the end).

Interesting. And I really would like to learn what show Dan Kimball was watching. I can’t think of any that would fit that description. I’m just sayin…

To be sure there is a huge openness to listen to what other faiths are saying, but a big, big part of that has to do with the fact most people think Christianity has said all it needs to say during an hour of Christian television preaching, so they are open to other faiths who don’t feel a need to popularize their depths.

• We need to develop a basic understanding of world faiths. While we don’t have to become experts, as leaders we should acquire at least a basic understanding, so that when we teach in our churches and meet people of other faiths or those who hold a pluralistic view, we can talk intelligently about other religions. A basic knowledge shows people of other faiths that we respect and are interested in their beliefs enough to do some homework. It also helps counter the impression that all Christians are dogmatic and close-minded.

I’m not sure a basic knowledge shows people of other faiths we’re interested, at least interested in much more than evangelizing them. Am I really blown back when a Mormon comes to my door and talks about the work of Jesus in the Gospels? Does it convince me when a Jehovah’s Witness discusses the doctrine of the Trinity? No. I see through them. They know enough to tell me what not to believe. Again, it’s not our prior knowledge that changes opinions about Christians or perceived close-mindedness. It’s how we listen and react in any given conversation. If we are trying to win the conversation, if we show that we have really studied the apologetics, then people will see us as used car salesmen, trying to exploit the moment.

Being willing to really talk, ask questions, listen and dialogue shows we’re interested. Basically, being genuinely interested in their beliefs shows that we are interested. How many evangelists, however, are really interested in what someone else believes?

One emerging church leader put it well when he said he was willing to be evangelized. That’s it really.

• Train your church to understand world faiths. I know of one church that devoted five weeks in its main worship gathering to learning about world religions, even inviting individuals from various faiths to come and be interviewed.

How much time did this church spend teaching in the main service about the doctrine of the Trinity? Or Church history? Or the nuances of Christology and pneumatology? How many of the Christians in that church could delve the depths of Christian theology? That’s really the biggest problem in the Church. We’ve our few points of essential, evangelism useful, doctrine, but most folks have little or no idea about some of the deeper aspects. They don’t realize how mystical or how thoughtful or how amazingly deep Christian theology is. In dealing with other religions Christians have to be able to contribute to the dialogue, and this doesn’t mean becoming broadly knowledgable, this means becoming very informed about what Christians offer. I have no interest in talking to a Muslim who knows Christianity really, really well. I’d love to talk to a Muslim who really knows Islam. I can talk my faith, he can talk his faith. What if I can’t my faith. It’s a pretty poor conversation and Christianity comes off as shallow.

• Can your congregation explain why not all paths lead to God? People in emerging generations are open to discussing this truth. But they’re looking for conversation, not a lecture, and facts, not rhetoric. Simply quoting a Bible verse and smugly saying, “Case closed,” will only alienate them. Despite what you read and hear about our relativistic world, when you logically and gently lay out the facts before someone who’s interested in your opinion, there is actually great response. Most people have never really thought about the implications of what it means when they say, “All paths lead to God.”

This is very true. But it shows a really modern insight into postmodernity. The problem with this point is not what Dan Kimball is saying. The problem is that it’s not really enough. You can logically and gently lay out the facts and get complete agreement. But it won’t change anything. A person won’t necessarily change their opinion in the face of the facts. Or rather the ‘facts’. Those are nice ‘facts’ they will say, but I have my own ‘facts’. And the modern will then get really angry and try to convert the postmodern to become a modern so that all the logic and syllogisms will work as they should.

Because really, it’s what Christ said. We need to do, not just say. We need to act, not just preach. We need to build relationships, not identify targets.

And we need to know who we are. What are Christians without Christ? What is Christianity without Christian theology? Post-Christian. We need to become fully Christian ourselves again so as to try to address this Christian-weary culture before it goes truly post-Christian. Fortunately, I really see the Spirit moving in a lot of ways, and where the Spirit is, however the Spirit is, there is Christ.

Which gives me a whole lot of hope. And makes me think I need to get closer to the Spirit more than take a class on Hinduism.

Next up, the aspects of our current society Dan Kimball didn’t address.

One Response to “Jesus, not the Church III”

  1. sonja Says:

    LOL … I grew up an atheist and became a Christian. So … there! 😉

    I’m guessing the sitcom Kimball watched was Dharma and Greg (from the few facts given), but that hasn’t been on the air in several years. It was on ABC awhile back.

    I like your point that we need to know the depths of our own faith in order to have meaningful conversations and relationships with people of other faiths. I think that’s very insightful. We have a good friendship with a Muslim family. They have a strong deep Muslim faith and ours is equally strong Christian. We have a wonderful time comparing our faiths and learning from one another. The point of our friendship is not counting coups on their souls, it’s being their friends. Someday we may even have the blessing of leading them to Christ, or someone else might. I pray for that. But until then, I/we have the blessing of their wonderful friendship.